The iris sphincter muscle consists of striated muscle fibers in the adult chicken. The ontogenetic development of this muscle has been studied by immunocytochemistry, from Embryonic Day 7 to the time of hatching. The time course of expression of specific markers of either smooth or striated muscle, i.e., smooth and skeletal muscle myosin heavy chains along with the inositol 1,4,5-trisphosphate (IP3) receptor, the intracellular Ca2+ release channel gated by the second messenger IP3, was investigated. We observed the parallel and transient expression, from about Embryonic Day 8 until hatching, of smooth muscle myosin heavy chain and IP3 receptor in early differentiating cells at the pupillary margin, as well as in migrating cells at subsequent stages; the sequential expression of sarcomeric myosin heavy chain around the end of the second embryonic week; and its spreading throughout the iris sphincter by the time of hatching. The present findings are consistent with a smooth muscle differentiation stage as an intermediate stage in the ontogenic development of the iris sphincter muscle of the chicken.